The Goat-Towers of Ardit
It was dawn and the goats climbed the towers of the valley of Ardit, as they do today and may tomorrow. The goat-herders of Ardit were already awake and about their chores, but moved silent under the shadow of the mountain about their business, so all was the bleat of the goats of Ardit, the clink of their bells, and the snap of their hooves on pebble and stone.
That dawn as the goats climbed the towers of Ardit, the goat-herds went out in twos with their tribes of goats, as is custom, and Taml, daughter of Gamaz, went out with Daanl, daughter of Whenz. The two girls were young and fast to one another, and none in the towers of Ardit made note of what they did in the pastures, save the goats in the towers, but when they returned they were clinging one to another, and whispering in each other’s ears that which did not make them laugh, but blush and smile and turn their heads from one another, yet with hands clasped tight.
Zaalz of the Old Tower saw this and was wroth and sick of heart, for the solitary goat-herd was alone at the entrance to the valley of Ardit, and had long admired the clean pale skin of Taml, her strong teeth and swaying hips. The Old Tower pointed his curious forked crook at the two girls, and the village which had ignored what was not pointed out to them now could not ignore it.
There was Law in the valley of Ardit, and there were Customs. It was Custom that a man and a maid caught in the rut would marry, and it was Custom that a man or woman caught in lust with a member of the tribes would pay the price and marry the goat—and let it be said that no few men in the valley of Ardit had a goat-wife, and even the woman Agraml that lived alone had a goat-husband—but it was the Law that only male and female should marry.
So was a council called, and Taml and Daanl were there, still clasped one to another, and Gamaz and Whenz came, and all the men of the village, with their wives and goat-wives, save for Zaalz of the Old Tower, who had neither, and old Agraz who had outlived his wives and goat-wives, and Agraml who had a goat-husband, but otherwise lived alone. Bold Taml stood before the council and declared her love for Daanl, and shy Daanl could not speak, but clung to Taml and buried her face in her lover’s hair, and would not let her go. Zaalz sat alone, for rumor had it his tribe had bred with sheep, and was ill at the way Taml looked at Daanl, and how each clung to each other. Such looks were never given to Zaalz of the Old Tower.
The elders of Ardit spoke, one to another, and remembered when they too had been young and climbed the goat-towers as boys and girls, and come down as men and women, with only the tribes of Ardit as witnesses. Many felt for the young girls, and might have left it, but then Zaalz spoke up of Law and Custom, and the way of things that came before and would come after. Some there were in the crowd, young men and women, who dared not look at each other, but stared at the ground, and felt as if they too stood with Taml and Daanl before the elders of Ardit. The talk turned to old and rare Customs, for some few could recall when something of this like had happened before—when Daz had dressed as a girl to marry Gaz, and the two lived as man and wife—and ever did Zaalz turn the talk back to Taml and Daanl, and countered Custom with Custom, and returned always to the Law, whence the girls of Ardit could not be married to each other.
Now there rose old Agraz to address the elders, who was well-spoken and had raised many goat-towers by his own hand, and outlived three wives and more goat-wives, and had decided never to marry again. Agraz stood and looked at each in their eye, and few in the village could but look away, for Agraz was a great listener and carried the sins of many. The gaze lingered longer on some than others, and longest of all on Zaalz, who finally looked away. Then old Agraz said: “Let them marry the goat.”
To this Zaalz could say nothing, but kept his silence. For there was no Law that said the goats of Ardit could not have more than one wife.
It was dawn and the goats climbed the towers of the valley of Ardit, as they do today and may tomorrow. Taml and Daanl led their husband-goat out ahead of the tribe, and clasped their hands together, and Zaalz of the Old Tower watched and gripped his curious forked crook, but only turned away, sick at heart, back to his half-breed tribe.